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[casi] Judith Miller: A warning by E.Said; criticism (almost) from the Times


Back in 1996, the late Edward Said wrote an expose of NY Times reporter Judith
Miller.  Said warned that Miller traded in fatuous "Islamic threat" analysis,
and that -- despite 25-years experience in the region -- Miller somehow remained
unfamiliar with Arabic and Persian.

More recently, Judith Miller has become infamous as a purveyor of "Iraqi threat"
analysis, especially those based on the lurid claims of defectors emerging thru
the INC (Ahmed Chalabi's group).

The NY Times on Monday came close to recanting Miller's INC-sourced reports
about Iraq's WMDs, in a story by Douglas Jehl.  Jehl's story is below, along
with a critique of the Miller/Chalabi relationship (from Editor & Publisher),
and Said's review.

Drew Hamre
Golden Valley, MN USA


Agency Belittles Information Given by Iraq Defectors

WASHINGTON, Sept. 28 — An internal assessment by the Defense Intelligence Agency
has concluded that most of the information provided by Iraqi defectors who were
made available by the Iraqi National Congress was of little or no value,
according to federal officials briefed on the arrangement.

In addition, several Iraqi defectors introduced to American intelligence agents
by the exile organization and its leader, Ahmad Chalabi, invented or exaggerated
their credentials as people with direct knowledge of the Iraqi government and
its suspected unconventional weapons program, the officials said.

The arrangement, paid for with taxpayer funds supplied to the exile group under
the Iraq Liberation Act of 1998, involved extensive debriefing of at least half
a dozen defectors by defense intelligence agents in European capitals and at a
base in the northern Iraqi city of Erbil in late 2002 and early 2003, the
officials said. But a review early this year by the defense agency concluded
that no more than one-third of the information was potentially useful, and
efforts to explore those leads since have generally failed to pan out, the
officials said.

Mr. Chalabi has defended the arrangement, saying that his organization had
helped just three defectors provide information to American intelligence about
Iraq's suspected weapons program, and that two of them had been judged to be

But several federal officials said the arrangement had wasted more than $1
million in taxpayers' money and had prompted them to question the credibility of
Mr. Chalabi and the Iraqi National Congress. Both have enjoyed powerful backing
from civilian officials at the Pentagon and are playing a significant role in
the provisional government in Baghdad.

Intelligence provided by the defectors that could not be substantiated included
information about Iraq's suspected program for nuclear, chemical and biological
weapons as well as other information about the Iraqi government, the officials
said. They said they would not speculate on whether the defectors had knowingly
provided false information and, if so, what their motivation might have been.
One Defense Department official said that some of the people were not who they
said they were and that the money for the program could have been better spent.

Two other Defense Department officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity,
defended the arrangement. While the credibility of the Iraqi defectors debriefed
under the program had been low, they said, it had been roughly on par with that
of most human intelligence about Iraq. The officials also said the Defense
Intelligence Agency had been generally skeptical of the defectors from the
start, on the ground that they were motivated more by the money and the desire
to stir up sentiment against Saddam Hussein than by a desire to provide accurate

A Defense Department official who defended the arrangement said that even most
of the useful information provided by the defectors included "a lot of stuff
that we already knew or thought we knew." But the official said that information
had "improved our situational awareness" by "making us more confident about our

The Defense Intelligence Agency's conclusions about the value of the
intelligence provided as part of the arrangement are believed to have been
included in a broader, classified report sent this month to Stephen Cambone, the
under secretary of defense for intelligence, the officials said. That report
focused on lessons learned by intelligence agents during the war in Iraq, they

The Iraqi National Congress had made some of these defectors available to
several news organizations, including The New York Times, which reported their
allegations about prisoners and the country's weapons program.

The Iraqi National Congress, a London-based umbrella group, was formed with
American help in 1992 and received millions of dollars under the Iraq Liberation
Act of 1998. In a stance that angered the dissidents and some Pentagon
officials, the State Department and the Central Intelligence Agency had long
been skeptical of the information from defectors that Mr. Chalabi's organization
had brought out of Iraq. Among that group of defectors was Khadhir Hamza, the
most senior Iraqi official ever to defect from Mr. Hussein's nuclear program,
who complained about the seeming lack of interest of American intelligence
organizations in hearing what he had to say.

The partnership between the Iraqi exiles and the American government was
initially run by the State Department, with millions of dollars provided to the
Iraqi National Congress under the Iraq Liberation Act, whose declared purpose
was to promote a transition to democracy in Iraq. One element was intended to
collect information about Iraq in order to promote public awareness about the
failings of Mr. Hussein's government.

Instead, State Department officials involved in the program said, the Iraqi
exiles used most of the money to recruit defectors who claimed to have sensitive
intelligence information. Until 2002, the State Department handed over those
defectors to the Central Intelligence Agency and the Federal Bureau of
Investigation for debriefing. Federal officials said that very few of them had
been judged to be credible, but that they knew of no specific assessment of
their credibility.

After internal State Department reviews in 2001 and 2002 concluded that much of
the $4 million allocated for the program had not been properly accounted for and
that the intelligence-gathering program was not part of the department's
mission, oversight was transferred to the Defense Department in 2002.

The Defense Intelligence Agency then took the lead in debriefing the defectors,
Defense Department officials said. The officials said they believed that the
review of the defectors' credibility overed only the period in which the defense
agency had run the program.

SEPTEMBER 23, 2003
Miller's Latest Tale Questioned
Jackson: When Will 'NY Times' Get Her off WMD Trail?

By William E. Jackson Jr.


Updated at 11:50 a.m. Eastern Standard Time

Editor's Note: William E. Jackson Jr. is former executive director of President
Carter's General Advisory Committee on Arms Control and a former fellow of the
Fulbright Institute of International Relations. This is his fourth article for
E&P Online about Judith Miller and the hunt for weapons of mass destruction

A New York Times story on Sept. 16, "Senior U.S. Official to Level Weapons
Charges Against Syria," was the most important to appear under the sole byline
of Judith Miller since her mea culpa of July 20 in which she revised history as
previously published by the Times.

But her latest story subjected the slant of her reporting to new criticism, as
it appeared that she was, once again, the "drop" of choice for a politically
motivated leaker.

There was no follow-up by Miller in the Times the next day. Rather, in an
apparent attempt to balance her report, the Times Web site on Sept. 17 ran a
longer International Herald Tribune story on the actual Congressional testimony
under the heading: "Despite Concerns About Syria, Powell Aide Opposes
Sanctions." It revealed that "individuals who sought to publicize these
criticisms (of Syria) had provided an advance copy to The New York Times." (The
IHT is owned by the Times.)

Did Miller break credible hard news -- or only flack for hawks in the
government, an all-too-familiar role for her over the last two years as she
wrote a batch of stories supporting allegations that Iraq was developing and
producing chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons?

Months later, it is still a mystery as to what convinced both the Bush
administration and the Times (one cannot be sure which is the chicken and which
is the egg regarding the WMD hysteria) that Saddam was still loaded with such
weapons on the eve of the war.

Was it a case of defectors telling U.S. intelligence agents, and Miller, what
they wanted to hear -- or just a matter of imperfect high-tech spying on Iraq?
Sometimes, in any case, you can't blame it on electronic glitches. On Dec. 3,
2002, Miller aired in the Times the allegations of an "unnamed informant" who
said that a deceased Russian scientist ("Madam Smallpox") might have given Iraq
a virulent strain of smallpox. Nine months later, Dafna Linzer of the Associated
Press authoritatively reported: "U.S. Weapons Hunters Find No Evidence Iraq Had
Smallpox" (Sept. 18).

But as with many of Miller's speculative news reports, the Times as of this week
has failed to follow up with admission of error or an accounting of new
evidence. If informants' or defectors' revelations were news when Miller
reported them, surely they should qualify as news if the government or the Times
now believes they were disinformation. There has been no follow-up story that
amends the record: say, a prominent piece entitled: "Times Erred in Suggesting
That Iraq Posed Smallpox Threat."

When I interviewed military officials and journalists located in Iraq regarding
the conduct of Miller during the quest for WMD, they did not mince words:
"Nobody could stand her." She had an "imperious manner." "She's lucky we didn't
shoot her." "She wore a uniform." "She had an exclusive deal with the Pentagon"
-- which undoubtedly caused resentment all around.

There would seem to have been no better-qualified American reporter than Miller
to follow the quest for WMD in Iraq. However, Miller's journalistic product, and
not just her personality and methods, became the most criticized of the war
(with the exception of Geraldo Rivera) and the succeeding occupation.

There is some irony in New York Times' Baghdad correspondent John Burns'
pronouncement (E&P Online, Sept. 15) that "there is corruption in our business,"
when he then proceeds to illustrate the underreporting of Hussein's crimes
against Iraqis before the war but fails to comment on the over-reporting of
administration falsehoods and half-truths in hyping the WMD threat posed by Iraq
-- by his own newspaper.

Defectors' Dodgy Dossiers

A growing number of experts endorse this theory: that Saddam ordered the
destruction of his WMD well before the war to deprive the U.S. of a rationale to
attack and to hasten the eventual lifting of UN sanctions. But, as Michael
Gordon wrote in the Times Aug. 1, "the Iraqi dictator retained the scientists
and technical capacity to resume the production of chemical and biological
weapons and eventually develop nuclear arms." It is a new way "to make sense of
the testimony of captured Iraqi officials who claim that weapons stocks were
eliminated." Call this Saddam's macro strategy.

But at the micro level, false information out of Baghdad that tended to enhance
the estimates of an immediate threat from WMD may have been planted wittingly or
unwittingly by some Iraqi defectors and made its way into the Times and official
channels, thereby serving to trick U.S. intelligence. National security reporter
Bob Drogin of the Los Angeles Times broke this story on Aug. 28: "U.S. Suspects
It Received False Iraq Arms Tips."

Or was it simply a matter, as intelligence reporter John Diamond of USA Today
recently wrote me, of "the Iraqi National Congress, having failed to convince
the CIA of the veracity [of stories about WMD in Iraq], shopping them around to
the media which, in too many cases, ran with them with insufficient caveats?
Often these leaks appeared timed to coincide with appearances on the weekend
shows by senior Bush administration officials, suggesting a degree of
coordination" between the Iraqi exiles and the government.

If so, they certainly found a willing buyer in Miller and Times editors, as her
May 1 e-mail correspondence with then-Baghdad bureau chief John Burns --
reported by Howard Kurtz of The Washington Post -- proves. No mainstream
journalist bit harder. We know that she led the Times into never-never land by a
heavy reliance upon stories channeled to her by Ahmad Chalabi's Iraqi National
Congress (an opposition group) that in turn became front-page stories on WMD.
(The documentary trail is laid out in Jack Shafer's Aug. 29 column on Slate:
"Judith Miller: Duped?").

The real problem: Miller had a virtual monopoly in reporting on WMD in "the
newspaper of record." Here we get to the most disturbing thought of all. Did
Times' editors under Howell Raines make a conscious decision to have one of
their stars regularly report the administration line on WMD in Iraq, without
serious challenge other than by Times columnists and editorials?

And did that reporter, believing in the same foreign policy agenda, use her
stories to make more credible to the public the claims pertaining to the WMD
threat, in cahoots with some Pentagon sources? This question has to be asked,
given the long run in the Times' news pages of Miller's hyped accounts. She was
not a passive recipient of leaks.

We know that some reporters in the Times newsroom complained after her infamous
front page April 21 "baseball cap" story, partly because of the thin attribution
behind it but also because of the journalistic concessions she made to the
weapons hunters in the field in hot pursuit of a scoop. Miller has offered the
facile claim that even this story -- an Iraqi "scientist" identified only as
wearing a baseball cap and pointing to places in the sand where chemical
precursors of WMDs were allegedly once buried -- was "world-class news." But
there is no evidence, until the summer, of a Times decision to turn to more
skeptical coverage of the glitches and gaps in the WMD story as told by the
White House. All the news that's fit to print?

When Did Miller Fall Out of Bed?

After months of enjoying "embedded" status (and then some), Miller unexpectedly
returned to Baghdad via Kuwait in the middle of the night in early June,
military officials and journalists told me, but was denied permission to rejoin
the weapons-hunting teams and was put on the next plane out.

According to a public affairs officer (PAO) on the scene, she sought an embed
arrangement different from the "terms of accreditation to report" which she had
originally signed. Most of her contacts had been replaced by new people from
David Kay's Iraqi Survey Group (ISG). Col. Richard McPhee, commander of the 75th
Exploitation Task Force in Iraq, whose teams had been looking for evidence of
WMDs in the spring, refused an interview with her.

Howard Kurtz's various revelations undoubtedly have impacted negatively on her
already strained relations with the U.S. military in Iraq. "General Judith
Miller" -- as Shafer has dubbed her -- was accused by a half dozen officers of
intimidating soldiers searching for WMD. An Army officer told Kurtz: "Judith was
always issuing threats of either going to The New York Times or to the Secretary
of Defense." Another charged: "She ended up almost hijacking the mission" of the
Mobile Exploitation Team Alpha (META), which was charged with examining
potential Iraqi weapon sites after the war.

Based on several negative comments by military personnel to me, it is unlikely
that Miller will again be given such unique access to those in the hunt, or that
they will even talk to her. An e-mail message to me from her PAO sergeant escort
regarding a three-week trip with META in April stated: "She did not have a
SECRET clearance." She was "high maintenance and came to the field badly
prepared. The problem I had with her was that whenever other members of the
press showed up, which they did as embeds from other units or as unilaterals,
she would insist that I get rid of them and that the 75th's story was her story,
exclusively. She didn't seem to have any idea that the Army needed as much
coverage of the 75th's mission as possible and that excluding everyone else was
detrimental to the credibility of what the 75th was trying to accomplish. Never
mind that we didn't find a damn thing ... She could not understand why Michael
Gordon, covering the war at ground force headquarters, could have his stuff read
and cleared at any time of the day or night while she had to wait. She would
talk about the 'news cycle' and how important it was, and threaten me or my boss
with the wrath of the NYT or her buddies up at DoD."

Team leader Navy Cdr. David Beckett of the Defense Threat Reduction Agency, in a
brief phone conversation, sarcastically dismissed the idea of her "supposedly
having some sort of clearance." However, Colonel McPhee, the overall task force
commander, is known to have said that Miller was "cleared at the secret level."
Regardless, it was generally believed and commonly said in the field that Miller
was cleared for information classified "secret." Either she pulled off a hoax,
or a very unusual clearance for a journalist was granted by some Pentagon

Miller at Work in the Desert

Charles Layton wrote about the "Miller Brouhaha" in the latest issue of the
American Journalism Review, and succeeded in getting her on the record.

Defending every aspect of her reporting and expressing pride in her exclusives,
Miller argued that the criticism would "blow over" because "my reporting was
accurate." Critics from competing publications were expressing "a lot of sour
grapes." She said that she had had to fight repeatedly with a commanding officer
who didn't want her there in the first place "because he was not comfortable
with my access to the information." So, did Pentagon civilian officials to whom
she was close then smooth things out because they knew where she would try to
come out in her conclusions?

Incidentally, she now says she has "no way of knowing" whether or not the
anonymous fellow in the baseball cap pointing at the sand was correct in what he

There were other equally skilled reporters covering the search. Miller did not
"beat everybody in the field," despite her bragging to Layton. Her journalistic
coup lay, rather, in talking her way into getting clearance from the Pentagon
and being allowed to embed with the 75th. As Drogin told Layton, "she was in a
great position to get the initial confirmation in the field" when WMD were
found. But they were not found, despite her best efforts to make readers think
that they were or were about to be.

The Others

Together, Bart Gellman of The Washington Post, Dafna Linzer of the AP, and Bob
Drogin of the L.A. Times constituted, along with Miller, the universe of four
mainstream American journalists reporting for several months in the spring on
the WMD quest in Iraq. The latter three provided markedly more skeptical
accounts as to the success of the search than Miller.

They all scooped Miller in that their reporting was closer to "the facts on the
ground," which did not corroborate her misleading reports. Despite great
pressure, they did not fail the test of sound reporting.

Declining to speak otherwise about Miller and her work, Gellman replied to a
specific question about the strictures under which he operated in the field and
which had been mischaracterized by Catherine Mathis of the Times. Gellman told
me: "I was surprised that the Times spokeswoman said I had the same arrangements
that Judy did. My military press credential said 'unilateral,' not 'embedded,'
and I specifically declined to sign a nondisclosure agreement." In fact, he had
a sort of hybrid status which allowed him to spend time with the search teams,
but did not bind him to a long-term commitment or special restrictions on what
he wrote.

Gellman spent one day on the scene with Miller, accompanying a nuclear survey
team at the Tuwaitha site at the beginning of May. Some of the soldiers asked
whether Gellman had a "secret" clearance, "as Judy did."

"I said I had no such clearance, but did have the commander's permission to be
there," Gellman told me. "The team leader, Navy Cdr. Beckett, did talk to me"
but Gellman was asked to step away from a conversation about a classified
matter. "I heard Judy tell him, 'I'm cleared for that, but he isn't.'" Gellman
agreed, as The Washington Post generally does, to withhold publication of things
like future operations and the identities of those in covert units and details
related to intelligence sources and methods.

The ISG Story

David Kay of the Iraqi Survey Group is back in this country providing an interim
report to his superiors who continue to express confidence of major discoveries
to come. Will Judith Miller be given the ISG beat at the Times rather than, say,
a more balanced colleague such as James Risen? Has the Times conceded this
territory to other news outlets, rather than take the WMD star role away from

So far the CIA is denying access to the ISG in the field, according to reporters
with whom I have spoken. But Drogin, Gellman, and Linzer are on the case. The
dog will bark, even if The New York Times fails to probe deeply and skeptically
into what is bound to be a thick and complex Kay report.

Source: Editor & Publisher Online

William E. Jackson Jr. was executive director of President Carter's General
Advisory Committee on Arms Control. He writes about American foreign policy and
hosts a TV political talk show in Charlotte, N.C.


A Devil Theory of Islam

By Edward W. Said

God Has Ninety-Nine Names: Reporting From a Militant Middle East.
By Judith Miller.
Simon & Schuster. 574 pp. $30.

Judith Miller is a New York Times reporter much in evidence on talk shows and
seminars on the Middle East. She trades in "the Islamic threat" -- her
particular mission has been to advance the millennial thesis that militant Islam
is a danger to the West. The search for a post-Soviet foreign devil has come to
rest, as it did beginning in the eighth century for European Christendom, on
Islam, a religion whose physical proximity and unstilled challenge to the West
seem as diabolical and violent now as they did then. Never mind that most
Islamic countries today are too poverty-stricken, tyrannical and hopelessly
inept militarily as well as scientifically to be much of a threat to anyone
except their own citizens; and never mind that the most powerful of them -- like
Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan and Pa kistan -- are totally within the U.S. orbit.
What matters to "experts" like Miller, Samuel Huntington, Martin Kramer, Bernard
Lewis, Daniel Pipes, Steven Emerson and Barry Rubin, plus a whole battery of
Israeli academics, is to make sure that the "threat" is kept before our eyes,
the better to excoriate Islam for terror, despotism and violence, while assuring
themselves profitable consultancies, frequent TV appearances and book contracts.
The Islamic threat is made to seem disproportionately fearsome, lending support
to the thesis (which is an interesting parallel to anti-Semitic paranoia) that
there is a worldwide conspiracy behind every explosion.

Political Islam has generally been a failure wherever it has tried to take state
power. Iran is a possible exception, but neither Sudan, already an Islamic
state, nor Algeria, riven by the contest between Islamic groups and a brutal
soldiery, has done anything but make itself poorer and more marginal on the
world stage. Lurking beneath the discourse of Islamic peril in the West is,
however, some measure of truth, which is that appeals to Islam among Muslims
have fueled resistance (in the style of what Eric Hobsbawm has called primitive,
pre-industrial rebellion) to the Pax Americana-Israelica throughout the Middle
East. Yet neither Hezbollah nor Hamas has presented a serious obstacle to the
ongoing steamroller of the anything-but-peace process. Most Arab Muslims today
are too discouraged and humiliated, and also too anesthetized by uncertainty and
their incompetent and crude dictatorships, to support anything like a vast
Islamic campaign against the West. Besides, the elites are for the most part in
cahoots with the regimes, supporting martial law and other extralegal measures
against "extremists." So why, then, the accents of alarm and fear in most
discussions of Islam? Of course there have been suicide bombings and outrageous
acts of terrorism, but have they accomplished anything except to strengthen the
hand of Israel and the United States and their client regimes in the Muslim

The answer, I think, is that books like Miller's are symptomatic because they
are weapons in the contest to subordinate, beat down, compel and defeat any Arab
or Muslim resistance to U.S.-Israeli dominance. Moreover, by surreptitiously
justifying a policy of single-minded obduracy that links Islamism to a
strategically important, oil-rich part of the world, the anti-Islam campaign
virtually eliminates the possibility of equal dialogue between Islam and the
Arabs, and the West or Israel. To demonize and dehumanize a whole culture on the
ground that it is (in Lewis's sneering phrase) enraged at modernity is to turn
Muslims into the objects of a therapeutic, punitive attention. I do not want to
be misunderstood here: The manipulation of Islam, or for that matter
Christianity or Judaism, for retrograde political purposes is catastrophically
bad and must be opposed, not just in Saudi Arabia, the West Bank and Gaza,
Pakistan, Sudan, Algeria and Tunisia but also in Israel, among the right-wing
Christians in Lebanon (for whom Miller shows an unseemly sympathy) and wherever
theocratic tendencies appear. And I do not at all believe that all the ills of
Muslim countries are due to Zionism and imperialism. But this is very far from
saying that Israel and the United States, and their intellectual flacks, have
not played a combative, even incendiary role in stigmatizing and heaping
invidious abuse on an abstraction called "Islam," deliberately in order to stir
up feelings of anger and fear about Islam among Americans and Europeans, who are
also enjoined to see in Israel a secular, liberal alternative. Miller says
unctuously at the beginning of her book that right-wing Judaism in Israel is
"the subject of another book." It is actually very much part of the book that
she has written, except that she has willfully suppressed it in order to go
after "Islam."

Writing about any other part of the world, Miller would be considered woefully
unqualified. She tells us that she has been involved with the Middle East for
twenty-five years, yet she has little knowledge of either Arabic or Persian. It
would be impossible to be taken seriously as a reporter or expert on Russia,
France, Germany or Latin America, perhaps even China or Japan, without knowing
the requisite languages, but for "Islam," linguistic knowledge is unnecessary
since what one is dealing with is considered to be a psychological deformation,
not a "real" culture or religion.

What of her political and historical information? Each of the ten country
chapters (Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Sudan) begins with an anecdote and moves
immediately to a potted history that reflects not much more than the work of a
name-dropping college sophomore. Cobbled up out of various, not always reliable
authorities (her pages of footnotes are tainted by her ignorance, whether
because she can only cite the sources she already knows she wants in English, or
because she quotes only authorities whose views correspond to hers, thereby
closing out an entire library by Muslims, Arabs and non-Orientalist scholars),
these histories are meant principally to display her command of the material,
but actually expose her lamentable prejudices and failures of comprehension. In
the Saudi Arabia chapter, for instance, she informs us in a note that her
"favorite" source on the Prophet Mohammed is the French Orientalist Maxime
Rodinson, a redoubtable Marxist scholar whose biography of the Prophet is
written with a bracing combination of anti-clerical irony and enormous
erudition. What Miller gets from this in her short summary of Mohammed's life
and ideas is that there is something inherently risible, if not contemptible,
about the man whom Rodinson says was a combination of Charlemagne and Jesus
Christ; for whereas Rodinson understands what that means, Miller tells us
(irrelevantly) that she is not convinced. For her, Mohammed is the begetter of
an anti-Jewish religion, one laced with violence and paranoia. She does not
directly quote one Muslim source on Mohammed; just imagine a book published in
the United States on Jesus or Moses that makes no use of a single Christian or
Judaic authority.

Most of Miller's book is made up not of argument and ideas but of endless
interviews with what seems to be a slew of pathetic, unconvincing, self-serving
scoundrels and their occasional critics. Once past her little histories we are
adrift in boring, unstructured meanderings. Here's a typical sentence of
insubstantial generalization: "And Syrians, mindful of their country's chaotic
history" (of what country on earth is this not also true?) "found the prospect
of a return to anarchy or yet another prolonged, bloody power struggle -- " (is
this uniquely true of Syria as a postcolonial state, or is it true of a hundred
others in Asia, Africa, Latin America?) "and perhaps even the triumph of
militant Islam in the most secular" (with what thermometer did she get that
reading?) "of all Arab states -- alarming." Leave aside the abominable diction
and jaw-shattering jargon of the writing. What you have is not an idea at all
but a series of clichés mixed with unverifiable assertions that reflect the
"thought" of "Syrians" much less than they do Miller's.

Miller gilds her paper-thin descriptions with the phrase "my friend," which she
uses to convince her reader that she really knows the people and consequently
what she is talking about. I counted 247 uses of the phrase before I stopped
about halfway through the book. This technique produces extraordinary
distortions in the form of long digressions that testify to an Islamic mindset,
even as they obscure or ignore more or at least equally relevant material like
local politics, the functioning of secular institutions and the active
intellectual contest taking place between Islamists and nationalist opponents.
She seems never to have heard of Arkoun, or Jabri, or Tarabishi, or Adonis, or
Hanafi or Djeit, whose theses are hotly debated all over the Islamic world.

This appalling failure of analysis is especially true in the chapter on Israel
(mistitled, since it is all about Palestine), where she ignores the changes
caused by the intifada and the prolonged effect of the three-decade Israeli
occupation, and conveys no sense of the abominations wrought on the lives of
ordinary Palestinians by the Oslo accords and Yasir Arafat's one-man rule.
Although Miller is obsessed with Hamas, she is clearly unable to connect it with
the sorry state of affairs in territories run brutally by Israel for all these
years. She never mentions, for instance, that the only Palestinian university
not established with Palestinian funds is Gaza's Islamic (Hamas) University,
started by Israel to undermine the P.L.O. during the intifada. She records
Mohammed's depredations against the Jews but has little to say about Israeli
beliefs, statements and laws against "non-Jews," often rabbinically sanctioned
practices of deportation, killing, house demolition, land confiscation,
annexation and what Sara Roy has called systematic economic de-development. If
in her breathlessly excitable way Miller sprinkles around a few of these facts,
nowhere does she accord them the weight and influence as causes of Islamist
passion that they undoubtedly have.

Maddeningly, she informs us of everyone's religion -- such and so is Christian,
or Muslim Sunni, Muslim Shiite, etc. Even so, she is not always accurate,
managing to produce some howlers. She speaks of Hisham Sharabi as a friend but
misidentifies him as a Christian; he is Sunni Muslim. Badr el Haj is described
as Muslim whereas he is Maronite Christian. These lapses wouldn't be so bad were
she not bent on revealing her intimacy with so many people. And then there is
her bad faith in not identifying her own religious background or political
predilections. Are we meant to assume that her religion (which I don't think is
Islam or Hinduism) is irrelevant?

She is embarrassingly forthcoming, however, about her reactions to people and
power and certain events. She is "grief-stricken" when King Hussein of Jordan is
diagnosed with cancer, although she scarcely seems to mind that he runs a police
state whose many victims have been tortured, unfairly imprisoned, done away
with. One realizes of course that what counts here is her hobnobbing with the
little King, but some accurate sense of the "modern" kingdom he rules would have
been in order. Her eyes "filled with tears -- of rage" as she espies evidence of
desecration of a Lebanese Christian mosaic, but she doesn't bother to mention
other desecrations in Israel -- for example, of Muslim graveyards -- and
hundreds of exterminated villages in Syria, Lebanon, Palestine. Her real
contempt and disdain come out in passages like the following, in which she
imputes thoughts and wishes to a middle-class Syrian woman whose daughter has
just become an Islamist:
She would never have any of the things a middle-class Syrian mother yearned for:
no grand wedding party and traditional white dress with diamond tiara for her
daughter, no silver-framed photos of the happy wedding couple in tuxedo and
bridal gown on the coffee table and fireplace mantel, no belly dancers wriggling
on a stage and champagne that flowed till dawn. Perhaps Nadine's friends, too,
had daughters or sons who had rejected them, who secretly despised them for the
compromises they had made to win the favor of Assad's cruel and soulless regime.
For if the daughter of such pillars of the Damascene bourgeoisie could succumb
to the power of Islam, who was immune?

Such snide accounts trivialize and cheapen the people whose houses and privacy
she has invaded.

Given her willingness to undercut even her friendly sources, the most
interesting question about Miller's book is why she wrote it at all. Certainly
not out of affection. Consider, for instance, that she admits she fears and
dislikes Lebanon, hates Syria, laughs at Libya, dismisses Sudan, feels sorry for
and a little alarmed by Egypt and is repulsed by Saudi Arabia. She is
relentlessly concerned only with the dangers of organized Islamic militancy,
which I would hazard a guess accounts for less than 5 percent of the
billion-strong Islamic world. She supports the violent suppression of Islamists
(but not torture and other "illegal means" used in that suppression; she misses
the contradiction in her position), has no qualms about the absence of
democratic practices or legal procedures in Palestine, Egypt or Jordan so long
as Islamists are the target and, in one especially nauseating scene, she
actually participates in the prison interrogation of an alleged Muslim terrorist
by Israeli policemen, whose systematic use of torture and other questionable
procedures (undercover assassinations, middle-of-the-night arrests, house
demolitions) she politely overlooks as she gets to ask the handcuffed man a few
questions of her own.

Perhaps Miller's most consistent failing as a journalist is that she only makes
connections and offers analyses of matters that suit her thesis about the
militant, hateful quality of the Arab world. I have little quarrel with the
general view that the Arab world is in a dreadful state, and have said so
repeatedly for the past three decades. But she barely registers the existence of
a determined anti-Arab and anti-Islamic U.S. policy. She plays fast and loose
with fact. Take Lebanon: She refers to Bashir Gemayel's assassination in 1982
and gives the impression that he was elected by a popular landslide. She does
not even allude to the fact that he was brought to power while the Israeli army
was in West Beirut, just before the Sabra and Shatila camp massacres, and that
for years, according to Israeli sources like Uri Lubrani, Gemayel was the
Mossad's man in Lebanon. That he was a self-proclaimed killer and a thug is also
finessed, as is the fact that Lebanon's current power structure is chock-full of
people like Elie Hobeika, who was charged directly for the camp massacres.
Miller cites instances of Arab anti-Semitism but doesn't even touch on the
matter of Israeli leaders like Begin, Shamir, Eitan and, more recently, Ehud
Barak (idolized by Amy Wilentz in The New Yorker) referring to Palestinians as
two-legged beasts, grasshoppers, cockroaches and mosquitoes. These leaders have
used planes and tanks to treat Palestinians accordingly. As for the facts of
Israel's wars against civilians -- the protracted, consistent and systematic
campaign against prisoners of war and refugee camp dwellers, the village
destructions and bombings of hospitals and schools, the deliberate creation of
hundreds of thousands of refugees -- all these are buried in reams of prattle.
Miller disdains facts; she prefers quoting interminable talk as a way of turning
Arabs into deserving victims of Israeli terror and U.S. support of it. She
perfectly exemplifies The New York Times's current Middle East coverage, now at
its lowest ebb.

In her lame conclusion Miller admits that her scolding may have been a little
too harsh. She then puts it all down to her "love" of the region and its people.
I cannot honestly think of a thing that she loves: not the conformism of Arab
society she talks about, or the ostentatious culinary display she says that the
Arabs confuse with hospitality, or the languages she hasn't learned, or the
people she makes fun of or the history and culture of a place that to her is one
long tale of unintelligible sound and fury. She cannot enter into the life of
the place, listen to its conversations directly, read its novels and plays on
her own (as opposed to making friends with their authors), enjoy the energy and
refinements of its social life or see its landscapes. But this is the price of
being a Times reporter in an age of sullen "expertise" and instant
position-taking. You wouldn't know from Miller's book that there is any
inter-Arab conflict in interpretations and representations of the Middle East
and Islam and that, given her choice of sources, she is deeply partisan: an
enemy of Arab nationalism, which she declares dead numerous times in the book; a
supporter of U.S. policy; and a committed foe of any Palestinian nationalism
that doesn't conform to the bantustans being set up according to the Oslo
accords. Miller, in short, is a shallow, opinionated journalist whose gigantic
book is too long for what it ends up saying, and far too short on reflection,
considered analysis, structure and facts. Poor Muslims and Arabs who may have
trusted her; they should have known better than to mistake an insinuated guest
for a friend.

Edward W. Said's latest book is Peace and Its Discontents: Essays on Palestine
and the Middle East Peace Process (Vintage).

Copyright (c) 1996, The Nation Company, L.P. All rights reserved. Electronic
redistribution for nonprofit purposes is permitted, provided this notice is
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For further information regarding reprinting and syndication, please call The
Nation at (212) 242-8400, ext. 226 or send e-mail to Max Block.

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